Monday, October 24, 2011

I have been trying to find a good jumping point to bring the Occupy Wall Street discussion to the ringShout blog. There have been so many movements over the past weeks that have spiraled out from the initial Occupy Wall Street movement, but it is the recent group, Occupy Writers, that boasts some well known writers, poets and playwrights - Jennifer Egan, Salman Rushdie and Eve Ensler to name a few - that for obvious reasons I find pertinent to ringShout. To see the full list of writers who have signed on you can go to Their statement is very simple:

We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world." Which seeks to show their presence through solidarity and give more visibility to the movement.

Author and journalist, Jeff Sharlet, who started the group, told the Huffington Post, "There are radical writers on the list, but there are also the kind of writers who maybe Bloomberg takes their books with him on a vacation to the beach. We wanted to say 'Look you've been outflanked. The movement draws as much from the people you consider to be your base." Giving the list a cursory glance, I did not immediately find any notable black authors (at least none that I recognized). My stomach did a small flip when I read the name "ZZ" and expected it to be followed by Packer, but instead read the name Claybourne. I have not read this author nor the book that they wrote The Predation Blues, but more power to them. My eyes finally fell on Alice Walker's name, who I most respectfully regard as a type of living ancestor. I was happy to know that she stands in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, but I would like to see more black authors add their names to the list, if they do in fact support OWS in any capacity.

I feel that ringShout, in a way, is doing similar work that Occupy Wall Street is doing, providing a platform of visibility for underrepresented groups (in our case authors) in hopes of promoting discussion, trading ideas and creating a more balanced world - the book world being a smaller but equally vital sphere of society.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tiphanie Yanique’s collection How to Escape From a Leper Colony is one of the best short story collections I have read in recent years, and one of my favorites to recommend. The Caribbean plays a central role, and is given new life on the page. Yanique weaves tales that utilize elements of magical realism to viscerally convey the mélange of cultures and identities that make up the islands.

Tiphanie was generous enough to devote a small window of her time to answer questions for the Greenlight Bookstore Fiction Book Group (held every third Tuesday of every month) that I thought would be nice to share here:

Migration both between the islands and to America and beyond seem to play an important role in many of the stories. Characters often leave to escape their past and return to confront it. Did the colonial history and nature of migration among the islands and from the islands play a role in this? Is it purposeful that there is a dual nature of relationship with the past, that it is both individual and societal?

Your question goes to heart of what I believe is a major emotional theme for the collection. In general, I'm less interested in the "you can never go home" narrative of migration. This might be because I've come of age in a time when the binaries of tourist and native are less, well, binary. Herman in “Kill the Rabbits”, longs to call somewhere home and when he lands on St. Thomas he believes that he has found his place. A big part of this is that his parents are there and that the woman he loves is there. The people make the place home for him. This is honorable. But he can't escape the history of the place, which is one of American colonialism. In fact, for the Virgin Islands, colonialism is not historical, it is the current reality. This social reality is not one that Herman, despite his personal love for Xica, knows how to manage.

I'm interested in the ongoing and complex relationship with people and the places they are from or the places where the end up. I don't think there are many things in our lives that are not both societal and individual.

What influenced the author's decision to make religion and faith such important aspects of nearly every story? Was it the islands' own complicated relationship with religion?

The Caribbean does have a very complicated and rich religious reality. My own personal upbringing was extraordinarily diverse. My high school was at least 25% Hindu but the school itself was Anglican. In my household there were Muslims, Rastafari, Roman Catholics, Evangelical Christians...and that's just the house I grew up in. If I go in to my extended family...hah! It gets wonderfully complicated.
Religion was rarely divisive in my family and friendship groups. When it was, I thought those people were losing out on the beauty of other people. Frankly, I thought the faithful who believed their way was the only way were either not very smart or just assholes.
I know religion has been a real source of tragedy in human history, but somehow I also feel it has been such a great source of beauty and intimacy. I grew up around faiths, so even as a child I saw understanding someone's religion as a way to appreciate that person culturally, romantically, intellectually. I suppose that may be one reason why it plays such a large part in my writing; it's a way for me to build and know my characters.

What about some of the elements of the book? Especially the title story, that seem "tall tale" like. Are these based on folk tales she heard growing up in the Caribbean, or are they largely her own invention? How has she used the stories of the Virgin Island and made them her own in her fiction?

It would be so cool if I could say that these stories were based on myths I grew up hearing. But alas, it's not that cool. These are largely my invention. However, grandmother, who raised me, was a children's librarian. She was definitely my first and most major story telling inspiration. She was the kind of Granny who read serious/literary books and told allegorical stories. Sometimes her stories were fairy tales she made up, other times she told us stories from her own life--but even those always seems metaphorical, allegorical. Those were her hobbies--reading and storytelling. I've always wanted to write serious books that might feel mythical or allegorical in the telling. She instilled that desire in me.

The book seems to have a extremely complex view of the relationship between parent and child. Mothers and fathers appear to be overbearing and distant at the same time. Was the author analogizing this relationship with any other types of relationships (e.g. native v. colonizer, immigrant vs. new national identity)?

The Virgin Islands is a colony of the United States. This status makes us one of the few colonies in the Caribbean. Yet, Virgin Islanders have very little interest in political independence. There was even a big song for Carnival with the lyrics: "let them know you're proud to be an American." This is very strange for a Caribbean island! And yet, Virgin Islanders have been fighting, for a generation, to gain native rights. We've been arguing in the news and over dinner tables for decades about who is really a Virgin Islander and what right "those Americans" should have on "our" land. While I cant' say that I was consciously connecting the parent/child relationship with the colonial relationship, I do think that, given the Virgin Islands' unusual colonial reality, it's a useful way to read the text.

On a personal level, I am very interested in love. I mean, I really believe in love. I'm totally old school over love. I think it's the only thing that ever saves us and I'm really curious as to how it works. I mean romantic love, friendship, familial love--all of it. But I do believe that it all starts with parents. Though both my parents are still living, my grandmother raised me. We were each others special ones and if there is such a thing as soul mate, then she is mine. But I still felt the absence of my biologicals. My own screwy relationship to "parents," along with my curiosity/belief about (for lack of a better term) the power of love has always been a major theme in my writing and likely a major reason I write at all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ringShout will be participating in the Festival of New Black Imagination taking place at Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus this Saturday October 15th. For more information on panels, performances and directions you can go to the New Black Imagination's website at
ringShout has chosen to feature three short story collections: A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim You Are Free by Danzy Senna, and How to Escape From a Leper Colony by Tiphanie Yanique. While the authors will not be there to read their own work, wonderful performances from the collections will take place. Leading up to the festival, the books will highlighted here at the ringshout blog. Happy Reading!

Three Books, Three Performances.

Danzy Senna’s collection of short stories, You Are Free, released by Riverhead Books earlier this year provides a window to a bevy of multiracial characters voyaging through an alleged post racial western world, “The election had come and gone, the blackish man was in charge, and the slogan on the bumper –Yes We Can—already had the feeling of some dusty, long-gone revolution.” Senna gives us her take on the multiracial experience in a cultural landscape that has become, in some ways, more level. Meet the Jeffersons. Meet the Cosbys, and the Obamas; forgoing the sass and patterned sweaters, and opting instead for strained marriages and relationships, women questioning their roles as mothers, and, for some, the angst of being middle to upper-middle class - an angle that is rarely portrayed with characters of color.
In the story What’s the Matter With Helga and Dave? A nameless narrator and her husband Hewitt hate the Cosbys for this very reason, “Hewitt and I both hated The Cosby Show with a venom and vigor –for its smugness, for the cloying sweetness of the vignettes pretending to be plots, for the surrealism of a rich black family who had no problem integrating into white America.” The narrator and her husband do not necessarily have a hard time integrating into their Los Angeles neighborhood. The are facing life as new parents and later dealing with the strange relationship that develops between Hewitt and their female neighbor, Helga. Race, in much of Senna’s stories, plays a supporting role to the main issues that her characters are dealing with.
In the Land of Beluah , probably the most disturbing story in this book, Jackie works at a temp agency where as the “lightest, brightest and whitest” (she is the product of a black father and white mother) she gets picked for jobs first; where, “Dark-skinned girls were always the last to go, no matter how fast their typing speed.” Jackie's break-up with her boyfriend Kip, who has left her because he claims she is not black enough for him, sets off something in her that can only be remedied through the abuse of Beluah, a stray dog that Jackie has taken in. Beluah, the bitch, as she is repeatedly referred to throughout the story, “The bitch was a mystery. She didn’t look mixed more like some breed that hadn’t yet been discovered,” becomes the manifestation of Jackie's self loathing.
In fact many of the women in these stories carry a degree of self-loathing while their male contemporaries are afforded the luxury of being light-hearted and without the same insecurities. While problematic, it is also understood that these stories are centered around female protagonists and the afflictions that effect women more so than men - though it would have been nice to read more self-assured female characters. You Are Free is a book definitely worth reading. Senna showcases how race is not exactly what it was or what it has been and is believed to be; especially as it pertains to people's lives, and how class and gender can be colored by it. Many of the characters are grappling to find comfort at having attained a certain echelon of social success, among other life's happenings and Senna conveys this through clear, funny and dark writing. She gifts us with complicated themes that should definitely be explored again and again.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Since You Already Purchase Books...

For all you hungry readers who love to spread literature throughout the lands, here's a concept: Buy a book and have a book donated to a child in need! You already buy books anyway, so why not make it count?

Here's some information, directly from the source, about how you can help make a difference:

We have just launched a new website,, that we hope will become a game-changer for black books and for children of color. We believe is the most comprehensive home for black books and black authors that has ever been compiled on the web. The North Paran plan is simple: For every book purchased on our site, North Paran will donate a book to a child in need. Our slogan is Buy One, Give One.

We know how committed you are to our children and to our community, so we are hoping that you will be moved to join us in this campaign to get books into the hands of as many children in our community as we can. We are asking you to take the following steps to help our cause:

1. Forward this message to all the family members, friends and colleagues who you think would be willing to join us in this mission.
2. Visit and purchase a book today.

By spreading the word and making all your book purchases at, you can help get a book in the hands of every child in our community. If, for every book we bought in 2009, a free book was given to a child in our community, we could have given 4 free books to every Black child under age 10 in America. Let's make that happen in 2011.

Buy One, Give One.

Denene Millner
author | columnist | editor | contributing writer

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Winter Reading Land

As the winter continues to rear its ugly head, I am on the hunt for some new reading material.

I've been thinking a lot about friendship, family, love and personal growth lately, and am therefore in the mood to read something that contains some, if not all of these elements.

During my search I discovered a book by the title "Farther Than I Meant To Go, Longer Than I meant to Stay" by Tiffany L. Warren. Upon doing some further research, I discovered that it's a national best seller and that this isn't her first book.

I'm definitely one of those people who judges a book by its cover, and I am completely sold on this one. I've ordered a copy and I'm waiting for it, but in the mean time I am reading a google books preview of it. I just couldn't wait for it! So far I am completely taken with the story. Since I haven't finished reading the book yet, I'll tell you what I know about it so far:

The main character, Charmayne Ellis, is a woman who is very successful in her professional life, but is still hoping to find love. She thinks that her lack of luck in this area has to do with the fact that she is overweight. Feeling desperate and insecure, she rushes into a marriage with a man who may not be right for her.

Oh yeah: based on what I've read about the author, God and faith will definitely play a role in this story. I'm not very religious, but a good read is a good read.

Happy reading!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Coffee Rain

I just finished reading a book by Angie Cruz called “Let It Rain Coffee”. It was good. I mean had to finish couldn’t put it down please don’t try to separate me from my book, good. The story, the characters… everything about this book was well crafted.

It was so good that I thought it should be added to the ringShout booklist. And then I realized that it was already on the booklist.

This story follows Esperanza Colón as she embarks upon a journey from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, and finally making her way to New York. In a way I think Esperanza Colón is like a lot of people, in that she just wants to live "The American Dream". That makes it difficult for me to hate her completely, even though she does many things that I don’t agree with. This novel has just about the right amount of drama, and I love Angie Cruz’s style of storytelling.

Angie Cruz is currently a professor at Texas A&M University and she is at work on her third novel. I am happy to share this read with you because discovering a new, talented voice is the only thing that I enjoy more than finding a beautiful pair of shoes.

So check her out.

Happy reading!